By: Scott O'Malley
December 17th, 2021
Throughout this series we have been discussing various biblical truths to aid in our effectiveness as counselors. This week I want to challenge us as counselors to be attentive to our own relationship with God and how it plays a vital role in our effectiveness in counseling. I want to share three personal stories that illustrate the importance of being a tour guide and not a travel agent in the lives of those we counsel.
Foundation #6 – Be a tour guide not a travel agent
There is a big difference between a tour guide and a travel agent. A tour guide has walked the terrain and been down the paths he or she is leading you to walk on. A tour guide walks ahead of you to lead you in the right direction. A travel agent, on the other hand, tells you about places they have never personally, experientially visited themselves. A travel agent is also not available if you get lost.
While we do not need to have had every life experience our counselees are going through, it is incredibly helpful when we have journeyed with God through life’s challenges and continued to follow Christ. We can share similar experiences and things we have learned along the way to help our fellow sojourner not make the same mistakes we did.
A travel agent is also not available if you get lost.
My first story of learning to be a tour guide involves parenting. When my oldest son was three years old my wife and I were having all kinds of behavior problems with him. He was angry, disobedient, and rebellious and we were ill-equipped to respond to his behavior. By God’s grace we attended a counseling conference and were introduced to biblical principles of parenting. It was a life-changing week and transformed how we parented our son and all our future children.
I have the privilege of regularly counseling families who need parenting help because of significant misbehavior by their children. While every situation is not identical to mine, there are some very important things I can share with the desperate parents in front of me. The counsel I offer flows directly from the journey I have been on with the Lord. Consider the following:
I can offer them hope because I was once an overwhelmed parent who did not know what to do to reach my son. Romans 15:13 says: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.”
I can encourage them that God’s Word, not the philosophies of this world, will equip them for this important task of parenting. One of the significant changes in our parenting came when we were shown a biblical view of discipline (Proverbs 13:24; 22:15). In my work in secular child care environments, I was taught to restrain out of control kids. This technique escalated the problem with my son rather than helping. I needed to follow the counsel of the Word of God rather than the philosophies of the age in dealing with a child venting his anger (Proverbs 14:29). 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Finally, I can challenge the parents with the truth that their anger will not help their child but their kindness and ability to teach is the very thing God can use to free their child from their current sinful choices. There was an incident that happened over 20 years ago where I lost my temper with a foster child in my home and I returned evil for evil. I was very sinful with my words and was eventually convicted and sent the child to her room while I tried to figure out how to respond to the mess I just made. As I prayerfully considered all the Scripture I could think of I came across 2 Timothy 2:24-26 which says: “And the Lord's servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” These words brought hope and direction on what I should do. I went back to the child, asked for her forgiveness, and sought to live out the truths contained in these important verses.
Another story that illustrates the importance of being a tour guide and not a travel agent was when my wife and I began to struggle in our marriage around our 10th anniversary. I had begun graduate school and was working on my Master’s degree in biblical counseling. Unfortunately I began to neglect my family without even realizing it. I was so dedicated to excelling in school that I didn’t keep commitments to activities with my family. In many ways, I became an absent husband and father. It created a great strain in our marriage for about a year, but the lessons I eventually learned were incredibly valuable to be able to share with other struggling couples. Consider the following:
I was blinded by my sin. A very important passage of Scripture I now use all the time first had to be applied to my own heart. Hebrews 3:12-13 says: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.” I especially had to learn good intentions did not absolve me of the poor choices I was making. I had so much trouble seeing my sin because my affection for my wife and children had not changed. But, thankfully, my wife was persistent in confronting me.
These repeated appeals from my wife finally broke through and I learned another incredibly valuable lesson - listen to my wife. 1 Peter 3:7 says: “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.” I repeatedly defended myself against what I thought were false accusations and did not heed her warnings. I should have been much more receptive to her concerns.
When I was finally receptive to her appeals and no longer blind to my sin, the necessary response was repentance. Proverbs 28:13 says: “Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy.” The renouncing part for me was I stopped doing school work when my children were awake so I could be a fully present husband and father.
A final story that illustrates the importance of being a tour guide is when I left my job at AT&T and was hired by Twelve Stones. We lived 56 miles from Twelve Stones so we needed to relocate closer to my new job. At that time, however, the housing market crashed and we couldn’t sell our home for almost two years. Many, many times throughout those 23 months I was irritated, frustrated, and angry with God. I knew He was in control and I could not imagine a reason He would not allow our house to sell. I learned some incredibly valuable lessons amid circumstances beyond my control. I have had the privilege of working with many couples over the years who were also questioning God. Consider the following:
It is foolish to trust in yourself and your own resources. One of the first things God exposed in me was I thought I was taking a leap of faith and trusting Him to take a massive pay cut and work at Twelve Stones. But through the difficult circumstances of my house not selling, a ton of financial pressure, and a convicting sermon, I realized I took that leap of faith because of how much money was in my savings account. When God “relieved” me of my savings account I realized I had never really trusted Him at all. I realized that I had trusted in my own resources. Proverbs 28:26 warns of this folly: “Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.”
A second lesson I learned was God provides for our necessities. Through all of our lost savings, car repairs, sky rocketing gas prices, and a pregnancy in the middle of all this, my family and I never missed a payment on a bill and never skipped a meal. We were very frugal at the time, but also God provided abundantly through a generous offering from our church and well as two board members of Twelve Stones helping us get out of our house. My faith soared in the truthfulness of Matthew 6:33 which says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
While those two lessons were very valuable, by far the most important lesson that was solidified in my life was that God is good! While I was complaining against God and accusing Him of wrongdoing He was sovereignly orchestrating the events of our lives to sell our home just after our daughter Grace was born. Through a series of seemingly unfortunate events, we were put in contact with a doctor who lives in a tiny town in Indiana. While numerous doctors in Indianapolis were unable to help us, this doctor was the doctor who figured out that our baby Grace had a hole in her heart, and that was the cause of her failure to thrive. As I reflected on all these events after our daughter had successful open heart surgery at 3 months of age, it was obvious the Lord was up to something good even while I complained against Him. He was so good and gracious that He had our best interests at heart even when I had moments of anger against Him. It strengthened my resolve to trust in the goodness of God and gently help others to do the same when life seemed at its worst. The psalmist captured my learned response from this trial in Psalm 106:1-2: “Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! Who can utter the mighty deeds of the Lord, or declare all his praise?” What a solemn privilege it is to help others see the character of our God despite their messy circumstances. A lesson I desperately needed to learn myself.
Before moving on let me just say a quick word to those who may be in the midst of difficult circumstances and still don’t see a reason that gives comfort. God does not promise us that things will always work out this side of heaven, but He does promise us His presence (Psalm 23:4; 46:1). To help you consider wisdom from the book of Job that may be helpful in your suffering, consider this video from the Bible Project (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQwnH8th_fs&t=4s).
God does not promise us that things will always work out this side of heaven, but He does promise us His presence.
These lessons that I needed to learn first have all been instrumental in me being able to effectively counsel people with rebellious kids, a struggling marriage, or enduring trials and difficulties. Even the Apostle Paul reinforced the importance of learning lessons for himself first when he wrote “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:12-13).
In the midst of our counselee’s life-storms, we can have great confidence in God that He has answers and wisdom for us to share because we have learned these lessons in our own life first. May God help us to be tour guides who share the journeys we have had with God rather than just proclaiming truths we know little about ourselves.
Next week we will examine our dependence on the Holy Spirit in the counseling process. In the meantime, here are a few questions for you to ponder this week.
Questions for Reflection
What are some of the significant life lessons you have learned from God? How can you incorporate those lessons into the counsel or advice you give to others?
What situations in your life threaten to unsettle your trust in the goodness of God? Consider what is hindering you from believing Psalm 106:1-2. Seek out help from a trusted advisor if needed.